We are all good dancers: in praise of jazz and critique of jargon

Lindy hop is a social dance. That means that ordinary people already have the skills they need to do this dance.

Our job as teachers is to just to remind them of this. Because they knew this when they were children.
If we ‘correct’ students and use jargon to make something simple complicated, they feel bad and think dancing is really hard. Dancing isn’t. Lindy hop is really simple.

So I just don’t use that ‘tension/tone’ paradigm for understanding lindy hop. I just have three rules:
take care of your partner
take care of the music
take care of yourself.
Done.

Sheryl asked this good question on fb (as part of a discussion about rough leads and safety):

What difference do you think different terms like tone/ tension/ activate/ turning off make? Honestly to me the main difference I think of between tone and tension is how muscles feel when exercising vs when my muscles are sore. Which is tension is my muscles doing the same thing just one is when it shouldn’t be.

I don’t really know how to address that issue using those terms (I’m just not good enough at this stuff). Mostly I just reject that entire paradigm. I don’t think of dancing that way, so I don’t use those words.

But from the POV of teaching new dancers, when you say ‘tension’, they interpret it using their own experiences (and many of them won’t have done any serious or consistent exercise or training). So they’ll think ‘tense’ as a bad thing, and recreate a tense, tight muscle. Same with the word ‘frame’: they’ll think of a picture frame, or the frame of a chair – something fixed, solid, unmoving, unchanging. And that’s absolutely not what we want in lindy hop. Or humans.

I don’t like ‘tone/tension’ because it’s applied to all muscles and all actions in the same way. It also makes it clear that students know nothing and must rely on their teacher 100% to learn to dance. It also makes classes very wordy and focussed on talking rather than dancing. I want students to figure things out on their own. I want them to know that they have the skills they need to learn to dance: they know how to hold someone in their arms, how to find the beat in music, how to stand on one leg, how to walk, how to look at someone, how to take care of someone. They’re also brilliant pattern matchers so they’ll figure out rhythms and patterns quite quickly. And most importantly: this is FUN. It’s dancing, not maths.

So I prefer to come at it from the opposite direction.

What do you want them to do?

Hold hands? Then ask them to hold hands, but hold hands like they’re holding hands with their elderly nanna who needs some support, but is still an independent human being. So gentle, but reassuring. Or like they’re holding hands with a little kid who needs direction because they get distracted, but knows how to walk. Or hold hands with someone they want to move around a small confined space with to music. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE DOING.

People know how to do this. And they understand the difference between holding hands like that and holding hands so tight it hurts someone. In our classes we then follow up this sort of instruction by saying “Check in with your body. Look at your hands. Are the knuckles white? Too tight a grip. Are your shoulders sore? You’re working too hard.” And we say “Check in with your partner. Look at them. Do they have a scared face on? Are they angry? Is their hand clenched really tight? Change what you’re doing and see what response it has.”
Or as Frankie would say: “You are in love for 3 minutes.” So you look at them, you look at them with admiration. Which orients your body towards them and gives you good ‘dance posture’ and connection, but also tells you how to hold their hand. You wouldn’t yank your beloved’s arm out of the socket. You look at them and interact with them.

We know how to do all this.

So we want them to hold hands with intention. We always use the example : you want your follow to come with you. So you lead them. It’s like you’re saying ‘hey, let’s go to the snack table!’ and you lead them to the snack table with purpose.
This way you get to the important stuff: moving your body first, holding hands, moving with purpose, making sure you take them with you. And there’s corresponding stuff for follows.
The rhythm is just the tool for moving you around the floor. If there’s no room to move, you dance on the spot. A fancy rhythm is just a fancy way of walking. And the music tells you what rhythms are nice, and paying attention to your partner gives you inspiration and marks the parameters of this dance.
The other people on the dance floor give you limits: a crowded floor means you do smaller shapes. A floor full of noobs and drinkers and kids tells you to be super safe. An empty floor lets you stretch out. You adapt.

Too many dancers learn a set of figures in class in a ‘perfect’ studio environment. Then when they social dance they just try to reproduce those moves in the same way on the social dance floor. Which isn’t sociable at all.
We need to use all our potential as flexible, responsive, reactive, creative improvising humans. Not just reproduce the same figures the same way all the time, regardless of song, other people on the floor, or our partner.

(This is where I rant about leads who only like follows who execute their moves perfectly: they’re not good leads. They’re very limited leads. So those guys who hurt you demonstrated an inability to change what they were doing to suit their partner’s needs and body and creativity. Same with follows who think a ‘good lead’ is a lead who only leads complex series of moves that work perfectly.)

I think that in lindy hop we focus too much on our arms, rather than thinking of our arms as a medium for a message. They’re like the cables that signals coming from our core pass through to reach our partner. They’re not the place where signals begin. Our arms join us together. They’re just one of the ways we share rhythms: we use our eyes (which is why I don’t like exercises where we close our eyes in class), we use our bodies, our ears, our connection with the floor, and then we use all the points where we touch, not just our arms or hands. And then finally (or first of all) the music connects us: we have a shared sense of time that keeps us together. Even when we’re not touching and can’t see each other, we know when to come back together – the 1 or the phrase or the bridge tells us!

So in nerd terms, I want relaxed, alert but not alarmed arms. Much more importantly, I want my weight on the front part of my foot (but not tippy toes), I want a neutral spine (so my bum muscles can relax unless they’re needed), which means my bum can be ‘out’ (to give me better ‘squat’ posture to engage my core and protect my knees), my knees are soft, my upper body is open and directed towards my partner. My embrace (closed position) is an embrace, where I touch my partner a lot (ie the follow isn’t clamping my bicep with a vice like grip) and our bodies make a v-shape at the closed side.
I’m aiming for relaxed contact, as relaxed as I can. But my pelvic floor is ON.
But these are ideal conditions. If I’m constantly working towards this ‘ideal’, I’ll never get there and I’ll never enjoy dancing. I’ll never be ‘good enough’. We are all good dancers, and we can all do this, right from our first class. We need to accept that we are all different, with different bodies (not this mythical ideal), so we see these variations as creative posbilities, not limitations.

To be honest, I don’t think a dance class is where you learn this muscle stuff. I think you need to do pilates or good strength training with a trainer to learn how to turn muscles on and off, and to be more efficient. Then you go to dance class. Just as the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers all had active physical jobs and lifestyles (because young, working class, African American people) during the day. Most lindy hoppers today have desk jobs, or less active lifestyles, so we’re working with a different physicality.
But none of that matters if you’re not focussed on becoming a competition winning queen.

Because I’m rhythm-focussed rather than move-focussed, I want that relaxed connection to let the signals move through my and my partner’s body so we can communicate. I don’t want to have to micro-manage my partner’s movements. I can have a most excellent dance with just circles, closed position, gliding. We needn’t even get into open position. And you can do that with anyone.

But when I’m talking to beginner dancers, I don’t give them all that talk. It’s just a bunch of words and too much info.
We demonstrate how to do closed position by hugging our partner then turning slightly. They mightn’t do that (too intense for a first class), but they see the example.

We demonstrate open position by holding hands then moving away; the connection is made by the distance, not by ‘tensing’ our muscles. It’s an active connection because our cores are on, and we have a 3/4 orientation to our partner (ie not facing away, not squaring up).

I don’t say all that, though, I just say, ‘look at your partner as you move into open’ and that keeps them at that 3/4 orientation towards their partner, and keeps their heads up, which keeps their shoulders open and the signal from their core through their arms unimpeded. If they’re comfortable with the rhythm by then (which they usually are), doing that rhythm will turn on their core and allow their upper bodies to relax a bit. If they’re having fun they will be relaxed.

If the follow doesn’t move into open, I ask the leads, “Did you stop moving? If you stopped moving, the follow will stop too.” And they realise they’d stopped the rhythm and were standing still.

If I want more core engagement, I don’t say ‘turn on your core’, I get them to do a one-legged jazz step (charleston), or ‘shake it down’ (ie Frankie’s bum jiggle into the ground). Because those steps require core engagement for balance and control – you can’t do them without your core on. Or I distract them with a joke so they relax and laugh and suddenly: core is on. Laughing: core activation. If they’re super tense so their partners can’t feel their core, I let them dance for a veeeery long time with that partner so that they stop being worried and relax. Talk. Enjoy the music.

If they’re too tense in their upper bodies and dragging their partners around, it’s because they’re relying on their partner for balance, and are not hauling arse. In other words, a rough, yanky lead is not moving their body enough, and is relying on their arms to drag the follow into position. If instead you haul arse and move yourself, the follow will come with you because it’s just the easiest option: “Come to the snacks table – they have ice cream!” Skye is a good example of this, so is Sakarias, and so is Frankie. They achieve great shapes by moving their own bodies first, which creates interesting shapes by the time the follow moves.

I think jargon works as exclusive language. It shuts people out of dancing. It gives power and privilege to the people who ‘know’ these words. And I don’t like that.

Make your code of conduct practical

…I hope my earlier post made it clear that this post is meant as an example of how we can apply existing laws and guidelines to our community?

I’ve been looking at, and thinking about, just how useful codes of conduct are. They’re great as a statement of intent, but if that’s all you do: state your intent. Well, who cares. It’s important to take the next step and apply the theory to practical examples.

eg in our SDS code of conduct I set out the broad ‘statement of intent’, then the code, then the actual sexual harassment policy.

It’s simply not enough to say ‘be excellent to each other’. You have to explain what ‘being excellent’ means. Just as you can’t say ‘use common sense’, because we are from lots of different countries, cultures and backgrounds. There is no ‘sense’ or meaning common to us all. So you need to be clear:

Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour (sexual or otherwise) which makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated.
– This means it’s ILLEGAL to hold a dance partner very close if they don’t want to be held.
If someone says they don’t want to dance, and you insist, touching them and pulling them, it is harassment.
Avoid ‘boob swipes’, touching a partner’s bottom, groin, upper legs – you know the deal. If you accidentally do so, apologise immediately. If you do this repeatedly, you will be warned, if not ejected from the event.
(from the SDS code of conduct)

I also feel that it’s not enough to just say “DON’T DO THAT!”
You also need to say, “YES! DO THIS! THAT’S RIGHT!”

How do I avoid sexually harassing someone?

Ask for verbal consent: “Would you like to dance?” “Would you like a drink?” “Would you like to take a walk?” “Would you like to come back to my place?” “Would you like to have excellent, consensual sex with me?”
(from the SDS code of conduct)

If your code of conduct is just a bunch of words you’ve cut and pasted from someone else’s, you won’t be able to think through the situation to this point. Take each line of your code: can you apply it to a practical situation? If you can, do you have a practical response to people who contravene these guidelines? And are you 100% ok with what you’re saying?
You should be 100% ok with your code, and you should feel passionately about it.

If you’re an event organiser and not acting on safety, you’re a dickbag.

Ruth reposted this great post by Miranda on fb today:

If you are an advanced dancer, you are probably a scene leader. If you check out of important safe space conversations, you are complicit in reinforcing toxic behaviors. Not taking a stance, is a stance that it’s cool for messed up things to happen.

These conversations need you to participate or don’t be a role model. Oh and if you’re a good dancer, you’re someone’s role model.

I agree. Completely.

A friend had tagged me in their comment to this post, and asked me to comment on how to not be a dickbag organiser. He didn’t use the word dickbag. That was me. Because if you’re not acting on this stuff, you’re a dickbag. A bag of dicks.

This is what I wrote:

I have a bunch of things I do (with regards to safe space policies and practice), but I don’t really have the brain space to outline it here.

But there are two parts to this issue:
1) preventing harassment through cultural change (eg how do you teach students, what do you model on the floor, what type of teachers do you hire, etc AND dismantling current power structures like unquestioning adulation of teachers, and top-down authority networks.);
2) responding to s.h. and assault.

You can’t not address this issue today. a) because be a good person, and b) it’s bad PR to be a dick. No one will attend your events, you’ll get a bad rep.

My current concern:
The men who offend are not my big concern.

I am concerned about the people (organisers, fellow teachers) who protect, defend, and enable these men.
I am seeing patterns of behaviour in event organisers who actively protect known offenders, and often enable them. Particularly if they are famous teachers. But they also dismiss reports about ‘less famous men’ because it simply doesn’t have the impact that reporting a ‘famous teacher’ does.
This is what truly terrifies me.
And it’s common and truly upsetting.
They’re not protecting them out of ignorance; many organisers know these men offend, they simply don’t think it’s such a bad thing. And they would rather defend their profits and profile than defend the safety of their students and peers.

So that’s what I’m working on right now. The things I look for when ID’ing rape apologists and enablers (usually a combination of these, with the general result being that it shores up the power of the organiser):

  • lack of code of conduct;
  • a code of conduct that’s been cut-and-pasted from elsewhere and clearly hasn’t been thought through and has no clear ‘voice’ reflecting that organiser/body;
  • no transparency in prevention and response strategies (ie they won’t tell you what the process is);
  • focus on ‘letting the police handle this’ and official legal recourse where women have to report assaults, but they don’t actually assist women in this;
  • talk about ‘private issues’ and framing assault as ‘sex’ or ‘bad sex’ rather than physical assault or attacks;
  • focus on ‘common sense’ to stop people offending;
  • wanting to ‘hear the other side of the story’ or ‘talk to the man’ rather than believing the reporter;
  • wanting a meeting where the reporter and offender meet ‘to discuss this’;
  • refusal to admit that it happens at their event;
  • wanting to handle this on a ‘case by case basis’ where they ‘speak to’ the offender (vs a broader policy with transparency and clear consequence and preventative strategies);
  • statements like ‘women make false reports to hurt a man’s career’. We all know this isn’t true;
  • tatements like ‘if they were raped, why didn’t they tell me? If they didn’t tell me, it wasn’t such a big deal.’

All this keeps the power with organisers and offenders.
Codes, policies, and transparency change the power dynamic, so that we are all responsible for each other and can act on offences; not just one powerful person.

How to approach this issue, as a decent human:
1. Learn about s.h. and assault, from the laws in your country to the info provided by rape crisis centres.
2. Be prepared to be upset, and get your support networks in place. This is upsetting stuff.

More generally:

You have to have a code of conduct. Even if you call it your ‘mission statement’ or ‘vision’ or ‘manifesto’. It’s a public statement of your values and the ‘rules’, and you have to be specific. eg actually explain what counts as sexual harassment in a dance setting – eg hands too low on backs, etc.

Now you have a code, how do you tell people about it? Website? Flyers? Posters? Hand outs?

Once you have a code, you realise that you need consequences for people who break the code. ie do you ban? Do you warn? How do you escalate responses (eg when do you ban vs when you warn).

Once you have consequences, you realise you have to have a process for delivering and then enforcing your consequences. Who will do the warning? How? Paper or email or f2f? How do you keep that warner safe while doing that job?

Develop a process, script, and role for this. Then practice it all.

Once you’ve banned someone, do you tell other organisers? Is it a lifetime ban? Do you take on a remedial role for that person, or do you just get rid of them (I’m in the latter camp – I’d rather give my time to people who are nice than people who hurt other people).

If you have to warn or ban someone, how do you keep track of who did what? You’ll need a reporting process. Who writes the report? When? Where? What happens to that report afterwards? Do you have a report form? Where is it? How many copies do you have? How do you safeguard anonymity and safety?

Safety. Mine. Other Women’s.
At this point the biggest priority for me, having done public reports about known offenders in the Australian scene, and actually being active on this issue, is the safety of women who’ve been assaulted/harassed, and my own safety:

  • my physical safety (I have been threatened for speaking up);
  • my legal safety
  • my financial safety
  • my mental well being (it’s fucking stressful and exhausting)
  • knowing my limits: how far do I go in protecting women who reports assaults; how far do I go in reporting? How much will I do before I say ‘ok, this is enough; I’m too tired/scared.’
  • protecting the anonymity and safety of reporters. I find that EVERYONE wants to talk to these women – to ‘verify’ the story, to know who they are (as if that matters), etc etc etc. This is partly straight up sexism (people simply don’t _believe_ women).
    I have also found that the offenders want to ‘talk to’ the women reporting them to ‘work it out’. This means they want to bully or threaten them into shutting up. Remember that assault and harassment is frightening and physical assault: people are injured. So protect the reporter.

Actually illegal things that lindy hoppers do

I’ve just been reading this post, Jeepers, peepers, what to do with your creepers by Dan Newsome, and I was struck by a particular list, where Dan lists things that contribute to a situation being ‘unsafe’ (there are other lists (sexist, creepy, coercive, etc).)

Just plain illegal
– Seeking physical affection from another person when that person is inebriated or otherwise incapacitated
– Drugging
– Using threats
– Using physical force
– Continuing to contact someone when they’ve drawn a boundary
– Having relationships with someone below the age of consent

This bit rang a bell for me, because there are many cases where lindy hoppers excuse this behaviour.

‘Using physical force’: The ‘rough’ lead.
All of us know a lead who is so rough he routinely hurts his partners. Yet our response is women either avoiding him or tolerating it. A lot of dancers excuse the rough lead as ‘a beginner’, or ‘just how he is’.
But if we won’t tolerate a stranger physically yanking us about in a cafe, or a man grabbing a handful of our flesh in a supermarket, why do we tolerate it in during a dance? When we say yes to a dance, we aren’t giving our partner permission to hurt us.

If you’re teaching lindy hop, your number one priority should be safety. People come to dance classes knowing how not to hurt people. So if they leave your dance class having hurt people, you’re responsible for that.
If you see someone hurting their partner, say something to them! You don’t have to be a teacher or a famous person. Make a polite script, practice it, then do it.

‘Continuing to contact someone when they’ve drawn a boundary’: keeps asking you to dance person.
If someone says ‘No thank you’ when you ask them to dance, deal with it. Be ok with with that.
If you don’t want to dance with someone, it’s totally ok to say “No thank you,” and leave it at that. You don’t need to give a reason or excuse.

If you see someone hassling someone to dance (the ‘dragging her onto the floor guy’, the ‘needy pleading girl’… and vice versa), say something. “Hey mate, be cool.” You don’t need to step in and dance with that annoying person (though we often do this). Australian slang has the perfect expression for stepping in: “Steady on, mate.”

Occupying space

Someone posted a photo of a man ‘manspreading’ on the tram to facebook, and there was a good discussion about it. For me, manspreading is a physical version of mansplaining, or of patriarchy. A (male) friend made this comment about the original post:

I sit like that..but i would 100% sit less comfortably so that i dont put others out like that. I find both men and women go about thier day unmaliciously unaware about how inconsiderate they are towards other people across a range of general day to day activities. I think if everyone made an effort to be empathetic in general things like this wouldnt happen..

This is a very sensible and reasonable response. It’s what I tend to think of as a humanist or individualist response to a feminist critique. On one level, I’m in agreement. But on another, I don’t think this approach actually captures the nuance of human relationships. Feminism begins with the assumption that men and women experience the social world in different ways. And these experiences are shaped by social forces and institutions which favour men.
I like to add detail to this, by adding the notion of ‘patriarchy’. Patriarchy is an organising force or ideology that organises institutions (schools, business, markets, hospitals), discourses (discussion, media, the exchange of ideas, things), and lived reality (our physical experiences). One of the key features of patriarchy is that people are organised not just by hierarchies of gender (where men have more power than women). They’re also organised by class (rich men have more power than poor men), by race (white men have more power than men of colour), by sexuality (straight men have more power than queer men), by age (middle aged men have more power than teenaged men) and so on. The ‘most powerful’ man, then, is rich, white, straight, and middle aged. We describe this type of ‘most powerful’ man as hegemonic masculinity.
It’s important to note the difference between ‘man’ and ‘masculinity’. ‘Man’ is about biological sex. Masculinity is a social construct. That means masculinity is a product of the way boys are taught and learn to act as men through formal institutions like schools, churches, and armies, and informal relations like families and peer groups.

Most recent feminist talk has approached this issue in terms of ‘intersectionality’. In the late 80s the more common term was ‘diversity politics’ or even postmodern feminism. But that thinking has been refined and developed to become intersectionality. The word gives us the image of a number of sphere or lines ‘intersecting’ at a particular point. Here’s an example. Let’s imagine a woman called May who has Shanghainese parents, is a lesbian, was born in Australia, and is the mother of two children.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 12.52.51 PM

All of these things make her the person she is. Let’s also imagine May identifies as a Chinese-Australian lesbian mum. This identity is the intersection of the traits that May considers most relevant (to this conversation at this time).
Of course, May’s person is the intersection of many more characteristics.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 12.50.38 PM

She’s also tertiary educated, cisfemale, middle class, lives in urban Sydney, and is able-bodied. At any time she may identify as one or a combination of these characteristics. This is important: choosing how to identify, is a mark of social power.

If we return to our hegemonic masculinity, we can see that this identity also exists at the intersection of a number of characteristics:

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The important point here, is that the power of this hegemonic masculinity lies in not recognising the different elements that contribute to this status. A man like this, occupying a position of power and influence, a businessman for example, might describe himself as a ‘hardworking, self-made man.’ He may attribute his position of power to working hard all his life. Which may be true. But his gender, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity mean that he is allowed to marry the person he wants, has access to better housing and health care, and has not faced racial discrimination.
Not acknowledging these advantages is an important part of patriarchy. The myth that power and success comes from hard work (rather than privilege) is an important part of capitalism as well.

So let’s go back to manspreading.
How is this an example of patriarchy at work?

I replied to that comment above with this

It’s partly about how men and women feel about occupying public space. Women are trained to take up as little space as possible – to be smaller, to talk softer, to be less confident, to avoid conflict by becoming invisible. Whereas men are trained to sit wider, stand wider, talk louder, disagree, to ‘stake their claim’ on space and ideas, to ward off conflict with a show of strength, take up more physical and audible space.

If a woman does break these rules – is louder, bigger, more confident, more visible – we have lots of ways to shut her down. Slut shaming, comments about being ‘strident’ or ‘shrill’, etc etc.

So manspreading enrages women because it’s about men being so comfortable with occupying space they don’t even to stop to consider their behaviour.

NB this is culturally specific.

When I talk about ‘public space’, I’m placing it in opposition to ‘private space’. Public space includes inside public transport like a tram, on the street, in shops (though these are technically private spaces, they function as publics), in the media, online, in parks, and so on. Private space includes the home, family, inside a car, personal email.
When I say ‘men and women’, I am talking about the men and women of urban Australia, a post-colonial, space in the modern, white-dominated developed world. The photo of a white man manspreading was taken on a Melbourne tram, where he is occupying more than half a seat he shares with a white woman:
Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.12.23 PM
Using textual analysis and an understanding of discursive context, we can identify them both as white, probably white-collar workers in urban Australia. We could make some guesses about age, and we could probably extrapolate about sexual preference. But the most important features here are gender and posture. He occupies more space with his wide legs, his relaxed, open shoulders, his joined hands, extended elbows, forward-facing posture, raised chin. She takes up less space with her closed legs, drawn-in elbows, compressed pecs, biceps and shoulders, her bag across her shoulder and in her lap. And so on. She also ‘closes’ herself to him by turning away and speaking on the phone. His ‘open’ posture suggests confidence and almost challenge (considering the context).

This sort of posture is not something that you see on peak hour trains in Seoul. Because Seoul commuters (the same class and age as these two) are taught culturally and socially to share space in a more communitarian way. There are certainly hierarchies of age and gender in the Seoul underground, but they operate in different ways.

Why is this the case?
If we follow the individualist reading, we could argue that the man has ‘won’ more space by being more confident, and by simply ‘stepping up’. But there is extensive research and observation proving otherwise.
Women in our culture are trained to think of public space as ‘dangerous’. They’re taught to be wary of rapists and physical assault, to preserve their ‘modesty’ and avoid unwelcome sexual attention by covering skin and literally keeping their legs together. They’re taught to avoid interaction and conflict by not ‘challenging’ others by using more than their ‘fare share’ of public space on a seat or in a tram. This includes speaking softly, not making eye contact, keeping their body ‘contained’ and ‘covered’, not speaking to or challenging men, not expressing their opinions, not laughing loudly, not swearing, not moving in a free way.

Women who don’t follow these ‘rules’ are disciplined with a range of strategies: men may ogle them, comment on their appearance, touch them, or interact with them despite being told to stop. These women are seen as having forfeited their ‘right to autonomy’ by being in public in particular way. Other women may be less overt, more effectively censorious: they may sneer at a woman’s body (she’s too fat!), eye her clothing (it’s too revealing!), mutter about her (she’s too loud!), draw away to avoid touching her (she’s contagious!)
The most important thing that I can say about this process, is that it is impossible for a woman to every behave or dress or be in a way that keeps her ‘safe’ from male attention and female policing. Because, despite the insistent slutshaming mythology of our culture, she is not responsible for men’s behaviour. Men are responsible for the way they disrespect women, though they are rarely held accountable. This is a very important point, because it makes women complicit in their own oppression. It makes women feel guilty for and accountable for men’s behaviour. It treats men’s behaviour as ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.

Even more importantly: if women are busy feeling guilty and vulnerable and taking responsibility for men’s behaviour, it stops them being confident and capable and asserting themselves. And this is how patriarchy polices women: we are convinced that we don’t deserve equal space on the seat, equal time in the conversation, safety in our homes, safety in public spaces.

Of course, power and privilege are largely invisible to those who have it. That white man on the tram probably has no idea he’s pushing that woman off the seat, or that the observing photographer is judging him. He might move over if you ask him to. Or he may be just as likely to huff and make a fuss about being inconvenienced by having to share. Because ‘when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels Like oppression‘.
Women, though, are far more likely to be aware of this inequity. Women are hyper-vigilant about their safety and bodies in public space. They sit in a particular part of the tram in a particular way to avoid conflict (note that woman’s almost apologetic use of the seat, her attention diverted by her phone to avoid a challenge). They avoid eye contact with strangers. They won’t tell an intrusive man to fuck off if he hassles her. Women wear coats over a skimpy dress in public, they don’t laugh loudly, they don’t ask these manspreaders to move over and share the seat. Because that manspreader is likely to see this request for equity as an injustice or challenge.
And here, of course, is the clincher. Women are trained to see themselves as vulnerable. Women are trained not to confront men about seat sharing, because they are afraid that man will hit them, shout at them, or humiliate them. Or – not impossibly – wait for them when they get off the train, then punish them verbally or physically. Women are taught to carry their bodies as though they were weak and vulnerable. To not ‘challenge’ male dominance with open, strong posture or direct eye contact.

This is where mansplaining comes in.
This dominance of physical space extends to verbal or intellectual space. Men are taught that their ideas are more valid, more important, more urgent than anyone else’s. More importantly, they are taught not to notice this, and to see this as normal. So when they do have to ‘share the floor’, they perceive an equal distribution of speaking time as inequity. And they respond to this as a challenge to their…status? Virility? Power? Who knows.
There’s a vast body of literature (primarily in linguistics and spoken discourse analysis – an area I did some work in during my MA work, and later employed in my analysis of online talk in my Phd) studying exactly how men and women talk in same-sex and mixed-sex groups in different settings. This somewhat dodgy post gives some interesting links (do make sure you read to the end.) Men and women use language in different ways, and they talk in different ways. I think it’s absolutely fascinating.

I have extended this model to my analyses of dance. Because I approach social dance as a public discourse: a place for the exchange of ideas and discussion and articular of identity. Through dance. So I see manspreading and mansplaining as two examples of male dominance of public space/discourse. Verbal/audio space and physical/visible space.

How does this relate to dance specifically? Well, we can look at the way some leads perceive the idea of ‘sharing improvisation time’. They may feel they are giving the follow equal time, but they do not see the power dynamic at work. Firstly, they do not understand that ‘giving a follow space’ is an articulation of the idea that the lead is the ‘boss’, rationing out ‘space’. This policing of improvisational space actually ensures that the lead is always in control of the whole dance. And of the follow’s body and creative voice. Secondly, their notion of ‘sharing fairly’ is skewed; it is not an equal division of time and space at all. In this situation I’d argue that this whole paradigm is poop.

This is partly why I really dislike the ‘dance is a conversation’ analogy. Because the type of conversation many men imagine they are having with their partner has more in common with mansplaining and manspreading: there is formal turn taking, but men interrupt more, take more time, and are more defensive and more aggressive, discouraging women from doing or ‘saying’ anything that could potentially embarrass or challenge a male partner. Deborah Tannen (linked to in the post linked above) points out that women and men use interruption in a different way. Women are more about collaborative meaning making (interrupting to exclaim “Oh my god, no way!” vs interrupting to mansplain and paraphrase a woman).

I would like to remind you that we need to think about intersectionally, here. While I’m saying ‘men’ and ‘women’, I should be saying hegemonic masculinity and talking about whiteness and class. The lead-follow relationships in modern Australian and American lindy hop are marked by class and race and gender and power. Much as people may like to pretend they are recreating the Savoy, they are in fact continuing the thinking and behaviour and relationships of their wider lives in the current moment.

As an example, listen to Frankie Manning’s discussion of leading and following as challenge in this video. He makes it clear that he enjoys being challenged by female partners. He also relies on women partners to help him get through improvisation. And he listens to his women partners’ improvisation and timing. It’s not exactly feminist talk, but Manning is articulating (and embodying) a masculinity that is an intersection of other identity markers: heterosexual working class masculinity of early 20th century urban Harlem New York jazz dance culture.

I’d like to add an addendum here:
In my experience, women who speak up about injustice – who question men’s behaviour or ask for equity – are attacked. Verbally. Physically. Legally. Financially.
I very rarely attack specific men personally for their behaviour, and if and when I do, it is always with bountiful evidence and with the express purpose of protecting women from his actions. Yet I am continually bombarded with emails, facebook messages, blog comments, letters, shouting down and interruption in public. I’m not particularly rude and I’m not aggressive. But I am perceived as such, because I’m not actually sitting down and being quiet.

It can be scary, but now that it’s happened so many times, it’s not scary any more. It’s just irritating. And I’ve also discovered that women are just much better at this public talk and action than men. Bitches get shit done.

(mis)uses of power in responding to sexual harassment

A clever point was raised in the teaching swing dance fb group I’m part of.
This group has an excellent vibe: mutual respect, constructive talk, be nice.

Here is a question asked by one member of this group (I’ll keep her anonymous in case she needs to be, but will happily add her name later if necessary).

…there has long been a culture of “dominance” and coercive sexuality based on dance prowess or fame … in the swing scene. And it is absolutely tied to the rockstar status within subcultures.

What do we do to shut down the rock star culture, while still honoring those who are stellar teachers? What can International teachers do to take the focus off them as celebrities while the community at large promotes their contribution to dance and their value as teachers? (and I suppose we need to ask this of the competitor population, too, but I think the crossover population is the actually the one in question)
In conclusion, what can we each bring to our pool to help build a better community that supports our often juxtaposing desires?

This is what I wrote in response. The first paragraph is the most important, I think.

I don’t think the dance world is any worse than the rest of the world for assault and harassment. I actually think we do quite well on reporting and responding – hence the number of reports coming up in the last two years since we saw the public response to Steven Mitchell.

We are quite active and getting well organised in Australia, with almost all events and schools having codes of conduct, and a few events having really, really good response, reporting, and prevention strategies. Vivi Kalman and her MLX safety champs crew are well and truly leading the way on this.

Despite the awesomeness of some organisers, we do have some recalcitrant bastards who are either supporting accused men, or refusing to act beyond setting up dodgy cut and past codes of conduct.
But, well, baby steps.

We’ve also found in Australia that most reports of assault or harassment haven’t been reporting high profile or powerful male teachers. Offenders all sorts of men, most of whom are operating ‘under the radar’ for event organisers, but are well known among the more ‘intermediate’ or general dance population.

Personally, and as an organising person, I am much more worried about organisers and other teachers who cover for offenders. There is clearly a culture of hide-and-ignore protecting high profile male teachers who sexually assault women. There were certainly organisers who protected Steven Mitchell, and we have seen that other teachers protected Max Pitruzella.

So while I’m all for undoing some of the hero-worship and unquestioning adulation for teachers, I’m actually much more concerned about the way organisers protect known offenders. I think that organisers gain a lot of status from ‘getting’ the A-list teachers, and I know that organisers also risk money and status when they put on an event.

I’ve also seen that the worst offenders are booked by organisers who run events with exploitative conditions: underpaying or not paying teachers, DJs, staff; not making workplaces safe; overworking staff and volunteers, etc etc etc.

So I think that one very important way to combat this issue is to think of sexual assault and harassment as issues of power and exploitation (not sex), and that they are just one point on a spectrum of exploitation. So to prevent assault and harassment, we need to address broader issues of power and exploitation.

eg if you don’t run your event legit (eg don’t get visas for teachers, don’t pay tax, don’t pay people properly, don’t invoice properly), you’re less likely to call the police if you an assault is reported at your event. I’ve seen organisers botch things very badly when assaults are reported. eg letting an offender ‘apologise’ to classes before putting them on a plane. That’s a whole series of unethical and illegal actions there.

And one of the biggest issues in all of this, is that inexperienced people run events, and don’t know about half the issues that need addressing – from music use licences to OH&S, and beyond to writing agreements/contracts and how to manage people.
The dodgiest teachers (and why are there so many in the blues scene?) target these inexperienced people, saying they’ll pay their own flights over, if the local person puts on an event. The local person feels super flattered, puts on the event, and then all manner of bad shit goes down.

Help the helpers

Hey there fronds. Are you working on sexual assault and harassment, safe space, and other issues relating to shit stuff that men to do women, children, and other men at dance events?
 
You may be feeling pretty fucking bad at the moment, what with Turmp, Max Pitruzella, Steven Mitchell, shit going on in your own scene, etc etc etc.
 
It can be a mix of total awful hearing terrible stories about awful men doing awful things, and total amazing fighting the power, kicking heads and taking names.
Either way: emotional roller coaster.
 
Please be looking after yourself and each other.
Keep an eye out for the symptoms of reactive depression, anxiety, and other illnesses, as well as just generally feeling poo. These don’t mean you are ‘nuts’ or going to be ill forever. It means you’re ill and run down and need to take care of yourself.
 
Me: I find working on this stuff pretty bloody depressing. I feel frightened for my own safety, for my friends’ safety, and very, very angry. I get particularly angry with men, because most of the people working on these issues are women, while almost (99%) of the people offending are men.
 
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Why are we once again picking up after you shits?
 
Me again: while the rage can keep you warm, it often dies down into depression (where I personally despair of humans), anxiety (being afraid of my email inbox as i receive another raft of vicious hatemail), frustration and irritation (fucking dancers, not being able to step up and help each other), and a general disinterest in dancing. The millionth time I read the same organisers or dancers list a million reasons why they can’t act on an issue (whether it’s paying people properly, banning a known rapist, or stepping in to tell some jerk to stop hurting women on the dance floor), I just feel like screaming. And then making good use of one of those bags of warm dog poo.
 
Things I do to manage these very normal feelings:
– set limits (what will I read, what won’t I read, how often will I read about these things)
– set limits (what am I prepared to act on? when will I stop acting?)
– set limits (no, I won’t talk to you about X, I’m sorry, because I haven’t the strength)
– set limits (soz, no known rapists, sexual assaulters, harassers or stalkers at my events. No excuses, no explanations, you’re just out on your arse)
– set limits (if I do think I might lose my shit and physically attack the next man I see hurt a woman on the dance floor, I take a deep breath, tell a friend I’m going in, and tell him politely to quit it. Talk before punching.)
– set limits (never too many beginner dancers; never too many dogs to pat, never too many early nights)
 
– get help. Talk to a GP (I love mine), talk to a counsellor (hey, they teach you how to respond to these issues). Talk to a professional rape counsellor so you know how to manage these issues and when to handball them to a professional. Tell a friend you feel terrible.
 
– pat more doges.
 
– remind yourself of the wonderful women you know. Then send them a message telling them that you think they’re wonderful. They need it, and it means you’ll be spending less time thinking at dumbfuck men, and more time thinking about wonderful people.
 
 

If you’re someone reading along who doesn’t help out on these issues, it’s time you did. And you should begin by finding out how. I’m talking to you, men. This isn’t our problem; men assaulting women is the problem. That’s you, and your male friends. If you don’t step up and do something, say something, you are complicit.
So share the load, hey?
And a general fb post where you offer to walk women to their car or to ‘talk’ to a doodbro on request is not helping. That just maintains the status quo. Instead, you could talk to doodbros when you see or hear them being dicks. Check yourself: what sort of jokes are you telling? How’s your gendered language? How do you proposition someone? Have you volunteered to help out at a dance event lately (no, not DJing or MCing, something actually essential)? Did you take your trash to the bin at the end of the night? Did you say ‘thanks’ to the vollies or staff at a local dance? Did you recommend a woman for a gig you wanted? Have you asked a woman dancer to show you that cool trick they just did?
 
Hell, start walking known or suspected offenders to their cars. Because they’re the ones who need watching. THEY’RE the ones who are trouble, not women.
 
 
Here is a useful resource: https://www.livingwell.org.au/professionals/confronting-vicarious-trauma/

Sydney is winning, you know

IMG_9080Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 1.45.17 PM

Check out this simple little symbol on this event flyer.
It says ‘we support safe spaces’, and it’s slipped in there next to the venue, organising body logos. This placement says ‘this is as important as who runs this event’ and ‘we are proud of this’.
It’s not the perfect little symbol, and I’d probably say ‘this is a safe space’, but it WORKS.

Just like flying a rainbow flag or having a rainbow sticker in your window, just like the pink triangle, this little symbol says “We are onto this.”

I’ll be attending EASY DOES IT…. tonight. (well, I probably would anyway, because live band, two floors dancing in a squashy bar: my favourites.

I do have a question, though: this is a public event, and the venue is a bar. How will the venue be enforcing safe space policies? Legit question, and out of curiousity, as we work closely with the PBC, and rely on their own commitment to equity and safety.

Now I’m all excited about community partnerships in working for safety and equity at dance events. I’d be curious to see how Nevermore Jazz Ball and Jenny Shirar and Christian Frommelt approach these things in their very-community-focussed event.

 

Look after yourself, friends

Hello friends,
With yesterday’s report of another high profile dancer – Max Pitruzella –  sexually assaulting a woman, you may be feeling pretty awful. Terrible. Despondent. It’s exhausting stuff, and it can make you feel unsafe and afraid.
Remember you can call Lifeline any time on 13 11 14. https://www.lifeline.org.au

Something I’m trying to remember: if women are reporting assaults, it means they feel safe enough to speak up. There probably aren’t more assaults in our community than any other, but it is becoming clear that reports are met with positive action. Men who have been assaulted: you are not alone; men assault men as well. You may not want to make a public announcement, but you deserve safety and support. Please reach out to someone.

So take care of yourselves this week. If this incident is triggering anxiety, depression, flashbacks, or distress, do please reach out. You can speak to your GP, who can then referr you to a therapist under a mental health care plan. These appointments will be covered by medicare.
Treat this as you would another dancing-related injury, and act early. You deserve to feel happy and safe.

Feminism, akshully

This article “Why I no longer identify as a feminist” is a bit simplistic. Feminism has always been wider and more diverse than a ‘liberal feminists’ v ‘radical feminists’ dichotomy, and the author’s overview of developments in feminist thinking is both simplistic and defined by one white, straight woman’s understanding of feminist history.

She writes:

I think it’s time I accepted that “feminism” no longer means “the aim for equal rights for women” but is understood to refer to the current feminist movement which encompasses so much more and very little that I want to be associated with.

Feminism today is as diverse and contradictory as it ever has been. You’ve never had to accept and align yourself with every position identified as ‘feminist’.
Me, I can understand and sympathise with lesbian separatism (which is far more radical than the ‘radfems’ Pluckrose mentions – she seems a little sheltered, tbh), but I don’t have to adopt a lesbian separatist lifestyle, and I can disagree with some tenets of some writers’ work.
Just as I can be frustrated by women like Pluckrose who identified as ‘liberal feminist’, but who I would say needs to learn a little more about the lives of women outside her peer group and own experience.

Pluckrose also writes:

I used to be pleased when people told me that I had made them think more positively about feminism, but now I fear that this may simply have prevented that person from criticizing a movement that really needs to be criticized.

Which upsets me, because it takes a very conservative/reactionary or right wing position, which is that feminism has somehow become a dominant discourse.
I wish! If this were the case, we would have female prime ministers and presidents, we would have access to free and safe contraceptive, all women would be able to choose whether, when and how to have children, queer kids would not be bullied or beaten at school, and trans folk would not be murdered. If feminism was a dominant mainstream discourse the American president-elect would not be a self-confessed sexual harasser and rapist, we would have as many women news presenters as men, and women would be as likely to lead as follow in lindy hop.

While I am ok with Pluckrose declaring that she is no longer a feminist (that is her choice, after all), I’d like her to clarify some things. I’d like to ask her how she can make this declaration and still hold a job, write in the public sphere, or make decisions about her own body. For, while she might not identify as feminist, she is doing feminism every day when she engages in these innately feminist acts. I think she might need to stretch her understanding of the term ‘feminism’, its history, and it’s current incarnations as movement, political project(s), and discourse.

Feminism is big, but it’s not monolithic. From those early moments of postmodernism and on into these much more exciting days of intersectionality, feminism is necessarily dependent upon diversity within its ranks. One of the very premises of feminism is that the masculinised notion of ‘human’ (or ‘mankind’) excludes everything but a single type of male experience. Feminism is about adding to our understanding of what it means to be alive, to be human.

Feminism speaks (to use a phrase I really like) ‘from the margins’. Because women’s voices are absent in arenas of power (politics, economics, religion, art, etc), feminism argues that women are disempowered, and life is therefore the poorer for all of us.

We come in all ideological shapes and sizes, but feminists are all concerned with a few basic concepts: that gender is important, and that women’s experiences of the world are shaped by gender and power. More importantly, as an activist ideology, feminism seeks to change the status quo, and to include women’s experiences in law-making, houses of religion, and public discourse.

From this point we might all split out into more and more specialised or specific movements with interests in particular (or combinations of) projects: sexuality, race, ethnicity, gender identity, class, fertility politics, ageing, marriage equity, ecological and environmentalism, medical politics, anarcho politics, labour relations and work, creativity and the arts, music, dance, education of girls, reproductive health, bodily autonomy…. and so on.

But we are all doing feminism. And there is room for all of us.
Come on in – the feminism’s fine!